By JON HAWORTH, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — The novel coronavirus pandemic has now killed more than 664,000 people worldwide.
Over 17 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.
The United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 4.4 million diagnosed cases. On Wednesday, the U.S. death toll climbed over 150,000 and now stands at 150,649.
Here is how the news is developing Thursday. All times Eastern:
4:46 a.m.: Dispatchers stop asking 911 callers about COVID-19 symptoms, raising concerns for firefighters
Callers to 911 in Houston will no longer be asked if they are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, changing a months-long practice to pass on the information to first responders. Firefighters are now told to treat every call as if the patient or home is COVID-positive.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said the change is an admission of the widespread nature of the virus in the city and out of concern that callers were not always offering true information.
For months, Pena pleaded with the public to give honest answers to protect firefighters, who have sustained large numbers of COVID-forced quarantines.
The change was announced on the same day the Houston Fire Department attended a funeral for Capt. Leroy Lucio, Houston’s first firefighter to die from COVID-19.
Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president Marty Lancton told ABC13 he can’t understand why the department would want less information for firefighters instead of more.
“Less information to the men and women on the front lines responding to calls is dangerous to firefighters, paramedics and citizens of Houston,” Lancton said.
Chief Pena explained the change to HFD members in a memo obtained by 13 Investigates: “The prevalence of COVID-19 is high in the Houston area and COVID-19 cannot be ‘ruled out’ in the field nor appropriately screened via OEC. In the best interest of HFD members’ health and well-being, all addresses and patients should be considered as possible COVID-19 positive places and patients. No attempts should be made or opinions formed to consider and treat any patient as ‘non-COVID.'”
The change is the second in recent weeks affecting COVID-19 information in dispatch. Earlier in July, the department stopped logging addresses of COVID-19 positive patients in the city-wide dispatch system. Chief Pena says that was taking too much time to enter thousands of cases in an antiquated system one by one.
3:23 a.m.: Global confirmed cases of COVID-19 surpass 17 million
Globally, there are now more than 17 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, per John Hopkins University tally.
The current number now stands at 17,031,281 but the actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.
The global tally surpassed 15 million just eight days ago on July 22. Just four days later on July 26, the 16 million mark was reached.
2:38 a.m.: Gov. DeSantis extends eviction and foreclosure moratorium until Sept. 1
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has extended the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until Sept. 1.
The ban was initially set to expire on Aug. 1 but the governor extended it for the third time in three months after the moratorium began in April.
State Rep. Ana Eskamani, D-Orlando, tweeted the news saying: “BREAKING— Eviction and foreclosure moratorium has been extended for another month.”
DeSantis issued the executive order without comment.
2:11 a.m.: Florida to pause COVID testing due to tropical weather
The Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) announced that all state-supported drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing sites will temporarily close at 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, in anticipation of impacts from Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine.
Testing sites are closing out of an abundance of caution to keep individuals operating and attending the sites safe. All sites have free standing structures including tents and other equipment, which cannot withstand tropical storm force winds, and could cause damage to people and property if not secured.
Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine is expected to impact Florida with heavy rains and strong winds arriving to South Florida as early as Friday. The sites will remain closed until they are safe to reopen, with all sites anticipated to be reopened at the latest by 8 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Free COVID-19 testing remains available through local County Health Departments.
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